I have often dreamt of leaning against a giant rhododendron on some isolated hillside in the Kingdom of Bhutan while Rufous-necked Hornbills and Beautiful Nuthatches appear within the orbital sphere of my binocular vision. The entire Indian Subcontinent is filled host of both familiar avian shapes and those that seem foreign to this New World-centric birding mind. Culturally India is an entire break from my familiar Western mental confines. The streets of Varanasi crowded with sādhus (holy men). The banks of Ganges lined with the smells, sights, and noises of the funeral pyres. The cycle of the life and death so at hand. I live within a culture that desperately keeps all of these concepts at arm’s length, something we barely acknowledge.
Within this chaos a wonderful diversity of birds exists, and the comprehensive Birds of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives from Princeton University Press is the best field guide for the Subcontinent. This guide is packed with an incomprehensible number of the species accounts (1,375 in total), which are placed in the left page with an accompanying range for the species. The species illustration are placed parallel on the right page. The quality of illustrations is generally great, however, several, not many, tend toward a near cartoonish quality.
The range maps are generally of a good quality. However, their limit size, about 1 inch by 1 inch, can make complicated distributions a bit difficult to comprehend.
Given the immensity of the Subcontinent, I cannot commend Grimmett and Inskipps enough for this colossal effort. It is rather difficult for me to wrap my mind around how many field and research hours the trio must have spent in the compilation of this wonderful field guide.
My dreams of traveling through the streets of Varanasi and sitting under that Bhutanese rhododendron are firmly planted within my birding imagination, and who knows maybe someday soon my Himalayan dreams will become my Himalayan reality. Birding within the footsteps of the Buddha.